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The Big Show #7: Going Themeless

The Big Show #7The next several installments of The Big Show are “themeless.” They simply present 20 hand-selected rockin’ pop songs (new, old and in-between) for your music discovery and distinct listening pleasure.

Show #7 kicks off with an alternate and slightly more rocking version of one of favorite songs by The Grip Weeds — “Rainy Day #3” — “pre-titled” as “Rainy Day #1 & 2.”

New music checks in with a wonderful track by the reconstituted Cleaners From Venus and a rather fun song by newcomer Joe Sullivan, whose long-player (produced and engineered by the great Andy Reed) can be purchased for a mere seven clams from Futureman Records.

Show #7 also includes Teenage Fanclub and the Pernice Brothers doing songs that rank among my favorites by two of the Greatest Bands of All-Time: “Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From” and “The Weakest Shade Of Blue,” respectively. The festivities conclude with The Zombies doing one of the Greatest Records Ever Made, “This Will Be Our Year.” Superlatives abound.

So, give it a listen, and tune in frequently to the main mix at Pop That Goes Crunch radio, streaming 24/7.

The complete tracklist appears below the embed.

 

Tracklist:

1.  The Grip Weeds, “Rainy Day #1 and 2”

2.  20/20, “Yellow Pills”

3.  Grant Lee Buffalo, “The Shining Hour”

4.  The Cleaners From Venus, “Cling To Me”

5.  Ballard, “I Know That You’re Watching Me”

6.  The Who, “So Sad About Us”

7.  And The Professors, “Turn Of The Century Recycling Blues”

8.  The Sharp Things, “Flowers For My Girl”

9.  Husker Du, “Could You Be The One”

10. Redd Kross, “Sick Love”

11. Velvet Crush, “Time Wraps Around You”

12. The Jayhawks, “Waiting For The Sun”

13. The Byrds, “Its All Over Now, Baby Blue”

14. Joe Sullivan, “Rock Star Boyfriend”

15. The Maureens, “Outta Sight”

16. Pernice Brothers, “Weakest Shade Of Blue”

17. Teenage Fanclub, “Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From”

18. The Green Tambourine Band, “I’m Free”

19. The Orange Peels, “Grey Holiday”

20. The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year”

 

 

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Skrang: An Excellent Tribute To Bobby Sutliff

Skrang: Sounds Like Bobby Sutliff

The Windbreakers were a Mississippi-based band, comprised primarily of Bobby Sutliff and Tim Lee, that released a half-dozen records in the 80s and 90s in the kind of Byrds/Big Star jangle pop/psychedelic amalgam that R.E.M. rode to great success. Although similar success eluded The Windbreakers, Sutliff and Lee are gifted composers and superb guitar players. One of the best examples of their craft is the simply gorgeous, then-new song they recorded as the title track to the band’s 2002 compilation, Time Machine: 

Outside of The Windbreakers, Sutliff and Lee have both done about a half-dozen other records each, and have appeared on various compilations and tribute records as performers, songwriters and producers. In June 2012, however, Sutliff was involved in a serious automobile accident near his home in Powell, Ohio. Lee wrote:

At the time, the prognosis was guarded, albeit not particularly promising. But Bobby survived his multiple injuries, and after a month or so of sedation, he slowly began making progress. Eventually, the pace picked up, and his condition continued to improve at an amazing speed. Before long, he was back home and closing in on 100 percent recovery.

But Sutliff’s un-paid medical bills were enormous. Lee thus organized ab bunch of friends to make a tribute record of Sutliff’s songs, an perform a concert in Atlanta, to raise money to defray the expenses. The resulting record, Skrang — a term coined by Sutliff to describe “the sound of an open chord on an electric guitar” — is likely one of the best things you will hear this year. It features performances by long-time purveyors of melodic rock and Power Pop, and not a single bum performance over 18 tracks.

Velvet Crush and Matthew Sweet get the set off to a rollicking start with the ringing “Second Choice.” John Stirrat, best known for his work as Wilco’s bass player, gives “Girl From Washington” a particularly tender feel in front of Lee’s stellar 6 & 12 sting guitar work. Matt Piucci, an original member of Rain Parade who later recorded with Lee in Gone Fishin’, enlists some of his old bandmates for a fuzzy, psychedelic take on “That Stupid Idea.” The Anderson Council play down their more typical Syd Barretisms on “Griffin Bay,” and turn out one of the best, most rocking tracks on the set. Its much more Grip Weeds than “See Emily Play.” Bill Lloyd goes it alone and gives “Same Way Tomorrow,” a slightly updated, smoother take on the Sutliff solo track from 1987. Michael Carpenter, one of my current favorites, lends his typically terrific vocals to “Long Red Bottle Of Wine,” widens the sound and manages to improve on the original:

I could probably write something effusive about each of the 18 tracks on this set. Its just that good. The first-rate quality of Sutliff’s compositions shine through on each of the tracks. Even though some of the performances purposefully veer into territory that is somewhat different than the original version of the songs, the collection has an overall cohesive quality to it that makes listening from start-to-finish a joy. It’s available for $12 from Paisley Pop, and well worth every dime. All proceeds, of course, benefit Sutliff.

Speed Of Live: A Live Record That Is Actually Quite Good

Most live records are kind of lame. They often lack the immediacy that comes with actually being at the recorded performance. Sometimes the playing is ragged. Sometimes the singing is ragged. Sometimes the recording quality is ragged. Sometimes all of the raggedness of a live recording gets covered up by studio lip gloss, thus defeating entirely the concept of a “live” record. You thus are left essentially with new, likely inferior, studio versions of old songs you probably already have. Why bother?

None of that applies to the live released earlier this year by The Grip Weeds called Speed Of Live. The Grip Weeds are a New Jersey band that took their name from John Lennon’s Private Gripweed character in the 1967 film How I Won The War. That, plus a short list of some of the songs they’ve covered in the past, will give you an idea of the musical spectrum from which they hail:

  • “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” — The Move
  • “Down To The Wire” — Buffalo Springfield
  • “She Don’t Care About Time” — The Byrds

Does that mean The Grip Weeds are hopelessly retro and mired in the good old days of the 60s? Not really. They are, first and foremost, a rock and roll band. And they sure can rock. But they are a rock band steeped in the virtues of melody and multi-part harmonies like, well, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. And, like those bands, the guitars occasionally jangle and sometimes sound like they came from somewhere in the Middle East.

All of these virtues are evident on Speed Of Live. Immediately after the announcer introduces “this band” as “one of my favorite bands” to start the record, Speed Of Live then proceeds to deliver powerful renditions of thirteen of the band’s best known tracks, and two covers, performed in small clubs in the Northeast. This is hardly a document of cigarette lighter-raised arena rock bloat, replete with endless noodling and solos. It instead shows just how good the band is “in concert.” The singing is sharp. The playing is concise and tight throughout the fifty-seven minutes of bass, guitars and drums.

I can listen to the live version of “Salad Days,” with its occasional “Taxman”-like bassline, over-and-over again. “Infinite Soul,” already one of my favorite songs by the band, has an intimate feel on Speed Of Live as if it was recorded in my living room.

The soaring “Speed Of Life” sounds at least as good live as it does on the band’s last “proper” studio recording, 2010’s Strange Change Machine. “Love’s Lost On You” goes on for six minutes on Speed Of Live, without wasting even one of them. Here’s a shorter version of the song, recorded live in the studio:

The two covers on Speed Of Live? “(So You Want To Be A) Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” by, of course, The Byrds. This version seriously rocks, with absolutely perfect harmonies, spectacular guitar playing and lots of “la la la’s.” They also do one of the best versions of “Shakin’ All Over,” which has been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Guess Who and The Who.

Speed Of Live is not a live record that is just “not lame.” Its fifty-seven minutes go by in what seems like an instant. There is not a single weak song in the collection, or a dull interlude in any of the fifteen songs. The record sounds great whether you are listening with headphones, or driving around in traffic at the end of a tough day at the office. In other words, Speed Of Live is just great rock and roll by a band that deserves a whole lot more attention than it receives. Go out and get it.

[This appeared originally in the now-defunct MT Weekly]

A Jangle Pop Christmas

Music has the ability to blow you away. Sometimes, its fun. Sometimes, its meaningful. Sometimes, its surprising.

I decided to listen to a Christmas album during my afternoon commute. It wasn’t your typical Christmas album. It wasn’t sweet or sentimental or traditional. It wasn’t the kind of stuff that pop radio stations play over-and-over again in December.

It was, instead, Under The Influence Of Christmas by the Grip Weeds, and it is “surprising.”

Under The Influence Of Christmas

In fact, “under the influence” is the perfect title. The album is “influenced” by Christmas.  But it is in all respects a rock and roll album that just happens to contain eleven Christmas songs, some traditional, some not.  All are done in the Grip Weeds’ signature rocking, slightly psychedelic, jangle pop style.

The album gets off to a great start with “Christmas Dream,” which just happens to be “The Coolest Song In The World This Week'” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Grand and soaring, it’s reminiscent of “Speed Of Life,” which kicked off their 2010 double-CD Strange Change Machine.

Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders fame lends some rougher-hewn vocals to the bluesier original tune “Santa Make Me Good.”

The Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” with its wistful “it must be Christmastime” plea, gets the full jangle treatment, with guitar assists from Pat Dinizio and Jim Babjak of the Smithereens.

“Merry Christmas All” is a bit of 60’s West Coast sunshine pop about that “very good time of the year.” And so it is.

The band gets (somewhat) traditional on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing.” The former gets a driving guitar and swirling organs. The latter is anchored by a beautiful Rickenbacker guitar. Both have gorgeous harmonies.

Toward the end of the set is another original song, “Christmas Bring Us,” which you can hear band members Kristin Pinell and Kurt Reil perform “live” in acoustic glory, here:

It all ends with a rockin’ version of “Welcome Christmas” from none other than How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  Oh, and for good measure, they even cover Jethro Tull and Emerson Lake & Palmer.

Under The Influence Of Christmas (sound clips of the entire set can be heard here) is simply the best Christmas album I have heard. Ever.

Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed.

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